Improving the Lives of Guatemalan Youth
The Puentes Project
The unemployment rate in Guatemala is five times higher for youth ages 15-24 than those 25 years of age and older. In the Western Highlands region, where the majority of the population is indigenous, the poverty rate reaches 76 percent and extreme poverty is at 27 percent. Historical patterns of structural exclusion, internal armed conflict, and unresolved social conflict reinforce and intensify social inequality, discrimination, and violence.
Moreover, limits on education play a large role in diminishing economic opportunity, with rural students receiving fewer than four years of school on average, poor possibilities for vocational and higher education, and a lack of entry‐level employment. A weak link between education and the labor market lead many young people to think that there is not much benefit to studying. These conditions, in conjunction with inadequate access to social and health services, have resulted in increased levels of internal and external migration.
In an effort to improve the quality of life for youth in the Western Highlands of Guatemala—as measured by employment, education, development assets, and hopefulness indicators—USAID funded Puentes, a flagship project that expects to help 25,000 young people across 25 municipalities gain workforce readiness skills and better position themselves to secure job opportunities identified by the private sector.
Empowering Youth with Skills
Puentes operates on the theory that if youth have better opportunities to learn basic life and workplace skills, receive workplace training tailored toward in-demand skills, and are connected to employers, they will have increased employment options. To this end, Puentes engages the Government of Guatemala, the private sector, and civil society to help this demographic meet emerging market needs and to help vulnerable youth find employment or become entrepreneurs.
The project aims to:
- Improve basic, workforce and entrepreneurship skills: Puentes focuses on preparing youth to access economic opportunities by providing competencies and skills-building training;
- Increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for youth: Puentes facilitates access to education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities; and
- Increase equitable access for youth to social services: Puentes ensures that youth have access to the social services that are critical to their overall wellbeing so that they may take full advantage of the opportunities available to them and improve their quality of life.
One Year In
The first year of Puentes has largely centered around building awareness of the project via community networking, providing life skills training to local youth, and exposing young people to various types of occupations.
To date, Puentes has provided life skills training—addressing issues such as nutrition and family planning, among others—to 3,500 youth across 15 municipalities. This crucial training is the entry point for the project. Upon completing it, participants then develop a life plan, focusing on their individual five-year goals, before either returning to school or pursuing vocational or entrepreneurship training.
Indeed, Puentes offers a wide variety of options to participants once they have finished the life skills portion of the program. Puentes currently works with a small handful of subpartners, including an agriculture school that provides training in horticulture. If agriculture isn’t a participant’s forte, they may receive training in mechanics, electrical work, plumbing, and more.
Throughout the past year, Puentes has also worked closely with Guatemala’s Ministries of Education and Labor to develop the life skills curriculum and connect youth to job fairs, respectively. Already, the curriculum has been accredited and is being integrated into distance learning programs, and will hopefully be rolled out to public and private institutions across the country.
As Puentes forges ahead, the project will focus on continuing to build participation through community networking and social media, with the goal of adding ten more municipalities in the coming year.
Additionally, Puentes aims to achieve gender parity among its participants. Currently, only 40 percent of the youth involved are male. Identifying the reasons why young men are not as eager to pursue these training opportunities as their female counterparts is a priority.
Finally, Puentes will work to increase the number of jobs available in the Western Highlands region of Guatemala while striving to meet its ultimate goal of training 25,000 youth.